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Cancer or al-Saratan, one of the signs of the Zodiac depicted in the book

The Kitab al-Bulhan كتاب البلهان, or Book of Wonders, or Book of Surprises,[1] is a mainly 14th century Arabic manuscript compiled, and possibly illustrated,[2] by Abd al-Hasan Al-Isfahani. The codex was probably bound during the reign of Jalayirid Sultan Ahmad (1382-1410) at Baghdad, and includes texts on astronomy, astrology, geomancy and a section of full-page illustrated plates dedicated to each discourse topic, e.g. a folktale, a sign of the zodiac, a prophet, etc.[3][4]


History of ManuscriptEdit

The calligrapher, copiest and compiler, ʿAbd al-Hasan ibn Ahmad ibn ʿAli ibn al-Hasan al-Isfahani, whose family came from Isfahan in Iran was a native of Baghdad where he studied the Aristotelic ‘demonstrative’ (burhan) sciences.[5] It seems the Kitab al-Bulhan was commissioned by, or the idea of, Shaykh al-Diya Husayn al-Irbili’—originally of Irbil near Mosul in northern Iraq — who sold it to Haydar ibn al-Hajji ʿAbd al-Karim ibn Muhammad in Dec 1409 - Jan 1410. The original codex comprised a series of treatises, which came apart and when sections were reassembled and some lost, it became jumbled and incoherent. The work includes extracts copied from the Kitab al-mawalid or ‘Book of Nativities’ of the astronomer and neo-Platonist Abu Maʿshar al-Balkhi (787-886 CE) of Balkh (modern-day Mazar-i Sharif) in northern Afghanistan.[5]

Manuscript CopiesEdit

In the late C. 16th two Turkish copies were made from the original for the two daughters of the Ottoman sultan Murad III (r. 1574–95.), one for Aysha Sultan, (c. 1582), the other for Fatma Sultan. These manuscripts are complete and establish the original order of the treatises of the Kitab al-Bulhan. The codices are now held at the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City and the Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris.[6]


See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Carboni, p. 22, La Trobe Journal.
  2. ^ Carboni, p. 34, La Trobe Journal.
  3. ^ Carboni 2007, p. 295.
  4. ^ Isfahani (al-), Kitab al-Bulhan 1390.
  5. ^ a b Carboni, p. 24, La Trobe Journal.
  6. ^ Carboni, p. 25, La Trobe Journal.


  • Kitab al-bulhan, Bodl. Or. 133.
  • Carboni, Stefano (2007), Venice and the Islamic world, Yale University Press, ISBN 9780300124309
  • Carboni, Stefano, The ‘Book of Surprises’ (Kitab al-bulhan)of the Bodleian Library (PDF), The La Trobe Journal
  • Isfahani (al-), Abd al-Hasan (1390), Kitab Al-Bulhan (Arabic MS ed.), Baghdad:—International Exhibition of Persian Art London 1931, p. 367

External linksEdit